Celebrating 50 years of US manned spaceflight (Courtesy: USPS)
By Michael Banks
If you haven’t marked it in your diary yet, today marks the 50th anniversary of the first American in space.
On 5 May 1961 NASA astronaut Alan Shepard blasted off on a Redstone rocket from Cape Canaveral as part of the US Mercury manned space programme, which had the goal of putting a human in orbit around the Earth.
Shepard, one of seven astronauts chosen for the Mercury programme, successfully completed the 15 minute suborbital flight, which carried him to an altitude of 187 km. He became the second person in space after Yuri Gagarin’s successful orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961.
To mark the anniversary, LIFE magazine has published 30 images taken on the day by LIFE photographer Ralph Morse, which includes 13 previously unseen photographs.
Indeed, Morse was dubbed by NASA astronaut John Glenn (who in 1962 went on to become the first American to orbit the Earth from space) as “the 8th Mercury astronaut” because he spent many years with the astronauts as they trained. You can view the slideshow of images here.
The United States Postal Service has also commemorated the anniversary by unveiling a pair of stamps. There is also one featuring a grinning Shepard (see image above), the other stamp features an image of the MESSENGER spacecraft, which successfully entered orbit around Mercury in March.